Higher Education

branded a Cortland rolls on

As mentioned in my earlier post, Cortland has hired a marketing firm to rebrand itself. We are attempting to identify a "promise statement," which is a sentence that expresses our values and our sense of Cortland as a college. So today I received an e-mail asking me to participate in a survey. "They" have honed the list of possible promise statements down to five.

I’m not going to list the five statements. In truth, I can’t remember exactly what they were. They’re kinda generic and forgettable. They hit on some predictable themes for Cortland. We’re small, affordable, comprehensive, and a "value" (see affordable). Our students come here looking for a career (mostly teaching). Then there are some recognizable generic higher ed themes–things that Cortland and/or its students might be or might wish to be: "engaged," energetic, making a difference, sincere, caring, serious, and so on. One of the statements mentioned athletics.

Anyway, you get the idea.

So the survey asks you to examine the statements from three perspectives. First, do the statements reflect something you think is "important" about the school? Second, do the statemenst say something you think is "believable" about the school? Third, do the statements attribute "distinctiveness" to the school?

I have to go backwards here. No, none of the statements are distinctive. But I’m not sure colleges want to be distinctive. How are we going to be distinctive? In our pursuit of "excellence" in teaching, scholarship, parking and whatever else? In our desire to offer a quality, affordable education? In our attempt to meet the needs of our students? Gee, that sure is unusual, that a college would try to do those things, huh? I mean we are a comprehensive college: are we going to be "distinctive" in our effort to offer a broad range of educational opportunities?

I’m not sure distinctiveness makes sense.

What’s believable about Cortland is that it is fairly small (medium-sized really) and affordable. We’re big enough that there are plenty of opportunities for students on campus, but we’re small enough that undergrads can develop close working relationships with faculty. I think those are two fairly important qualities in a college, especially a public college like ours.

As to what is important to/about Cortland…. well, this is a marketing campaign. To me what’s valuable about Cortland is its servicability as a site where students and faculty can form a community that encourages creativity and intellectual growth. Sometimes it does that, and sometimes it does not. And no, I don’t think there’s anything distinctive about that quality.

In any case, as I said before, despite my skepticism, I do hope something good comes of this rebranding. At least I hope we get a decent home page out of the deal. We’ve had the same basic home page since I arrived five years ago. Fortunately I am sure that neither my skepticism or any possible enthusiasm I might generate will have any difference in the outcome of this venture.


One reply on “branded a Cortland rolls on”

What I find fascinating about this branding effort is that no one seems to find it odd that we are engaged in a process of trying to “name” what it is higher ed offers students. I admit I went to college in the 60’s but I can honestly say that we weren’t confused about the purpose of going to college, of getting a “higher” education. It was once thought that that meant being better read, becoming a better and maybe broader thinker, honing one’s writing skills, etc. etc.
Now we’re in the business of branding, or trying to figure out just what it is Cortland (or any other U engaged in this process as many are) has to offer.
Doesn’t anyone else find this odd? I agree that the statements under consideration are forgettable. No one is distinctive. No one can be offended either.
This is all about the U as operating on a business model, competing in the marketplace (not of ideas) for student bodies.
Whew! Now I find that offensive.


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